Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Whalesbone Oyster House

You know that nervous feeling you get when you walk past someone famous? I get that around amazing chefs. They are eminent individuals to me and I have a great deal of respect for them. This is how I feel every time I walk past the open kitchen at the Whalesbone. The food magic that goes on back there has always been out of this world, and last night was no different.

I was with a group of friends celebrating a birthday and we had the best seat in the house, the giant table at the front. The air in this place is always so happy and having that table just makes it that much more fun. It also makes it easy to share dishes with everyone, so that's what we did.

We started off with a couple of oyster plates. So fresh and yummy. I could seriously spend the night just eating oysters. As I say that I'm getting a flash back to my grandfather who used to sit out back with a mound of oysters and shuck and eat them until the sun went down. That was also the first time I ever had an oyster, and I have to say, I didn't like it that first time like I do now!

Next we shared the Fruit de Mer Pizza – mornay sauce, allegretto, mussels, capers, onion, fennel crust and truffle and some fried smelts and chips (they actually weren't called smelts, it was another name that I can't for the life of me remember), I do remember that they were fantastic though, as was the pizza with it's perfectly crisp dough.

I ordered the Charred Line Caught Albacore Tuna as my appetizer, made with crème fraiche, avocado (which I omitted), caviar, mint, basil, cucumber, celery, lemon. Each mouthwatering slice of that soft, translucent tuna was to die for. And I swear, when I closed my eyes, it felt like summer. The flavours exuding from this dish took winter and washed it all away.

Last but certainly not least (yes, I was hungry), my main – Qualicum Beach Scallops with leeks, Cherokee potatoes, spinach and Nantua sauce. The delicate taste and creamy texture of these round morsels of deliciousness were made even more heavenly by the silky sauce that surrounded them.

I just wish that I could do it all over again.

As usual, the service was phenomenal. If you've never been to the Whalesbone, I've got one question for you – What the heck are you waiting for?

Whalesbone Oyster House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Metropolitain Brasserie

This is a great restaurant to bring business associates or friends from out of town. It's smack dab in the middle of Château Laurier and the market. My father-in-law's wife was in town this evening attending a conference and she had a couple of hours to dart out and have dinner with us. Since she was staying at the Westin, we figured this would be a great spot to go.

I started off with a Guinness, my husband a Stiegel and Brenda with a glass of white wine. As I perused the menu, I got stuck on two dishes – Steak Tartare and Venison Ravioli. Luckily they both sounded appetizing to my husband as well, so we decided to share.

We all started off with salad. Brenda ordered the Endive salad with pear, walnuts and Roquefort (although she omitted the cheese), and my husband and I shared the Metropolitain Salad with shaved fennel, haricot verts, endive, red onion, greens and Dijon sherry vinaigrette. I found the vinaigrette to be quite weak flavour-wise, but the ingredients on the salad were very good.

Brenda's endive salad was tastier.

Next came our mains. Brenda had the Oysters Michel (actually sold as an app), 5 East Coast oysters baked with chanterelle, romano and lemon crème fraîche. I didn't try these but she did seem to enjoy them.

The tartare, topped with a quail egg and served alongside some baby gherkins, was good, although the crisp baguette toasts that came with it were a little overpowering because they were so salty. To someone like my husband though, that's a good thing!

The best part of the meal was the Venison Ravioli Chasseur with duck confit, mushrooms, tomatoes and fresh herbs in a rich wine and demi glace – if you have the chance, go there and order this dish, it's quite scrumptious. My husband thought the pasta was a little undercooked, but I found it to be just fine.

We finished off sharing the Flourless Chocolate Cake with some coffee. I think a big glass of red wine would have gone even better. It was sooooo chocolatey, you didn't need more than a bite or two to be satisfied. And every bite begged to be left to melt in your mouth.

Thanks so much for treating us Brenda!

The service was efficient but not rushed and very friendly. Apps range from $7 to $20 and mains from $18 to $36. The food is good but slightly overpriced for the quality.

Metropolitain Brasserie Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 25, 2010

Roasted Squash, Goat Cheese and Leek Casserole

This has got to be one of the best casseroles I've ever had. As soon as my husband said what he was making (I honestly can't remember if he's ever made a casserole before today), I was pretty excited. I used to eat them all the time growing up. My Mom was the casserole queen! When I moved out on my own, it was something I could easily make. And although my presentations always sucked, I managed to get the taste right.

This meal almost looks like dessert. Beautiful, bright pepper squash, yummy hazelnuts and delicious goat cheese make this dish superb.

While roasting 2 squash, fry up 3 cups of leeks with a bunch of sage and some garlic. When the squash is done, do two layers of the following in a casserole dish: leeks first, followed by cubes of squash, lots of goat cheese (one full package for the entire thing) and a handful of hazelnuts. Repeat. Pour in one cup of cream before putting it in the oven at 375 for 30 minutes.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Burns Supper

Tomorrow is Robert Burns' birthday. Yesterday, my friend Donnie decided to celebrate the late Scottish poet's special day over dinner with friends. I must say, this has got to be the least appetizing-looking meal I've ever posted. But the flavour of each dish was outstanding.

We started off with some Scottish beer – Harviestoun.

Or choice of scotch. (I must say, I do not have the taste buds for this at all.)

Donnie said grace.
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Onto the Haggis!
Haggis is a mixture of pork liver, lungs, beef suet, oatmeal, pork heart, pork tongue, onions, spices and salt simmered in the animal's stomach for a few hours. Haggis is normally made with sheep's pluck (ours was pork based).

It tasted a lot like tourtière but far more flavourful if you can imagine that.

Alongside the haggis was some mashed tatties and neeps. My husband prepared this dish, whipping potatoes and turnip with some green onion and truffle oil (normally prepared with butter). The truffle oil added a delicious rich flavour.

We also had some steak and kidney pie. So filling and so comforting!

As if that wasn't enough, Teresa brought her grandmother's famous shortbread made with only 3 ingredients: Brown sugar, butter and flour. This stuff was addictive! And melted so nicely in your mouth.

What a feast. I think this has to become an annual thing ok Donnie?

The haggis and steak pie were purchased at The Scottish and Irish Store.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jak’s Kitchen

I had plans to go for afternoon dessert with my friend Amy today. I was really craving some apple crisp or crumble or a variation thereof. My first thought was Oh So Good in the market. I've never been but I knew they had dessert. After reading some reviews on Ottawa Foodies and a few other sites, I decided against it.

I've always enjoyed Jak's, it's very close by and I figured even if they don't have exactly what I'm craving, I'm sure they'll have something I will love. They had the next best thing – apple cinnamon french toast made with cinnamon spiced molasses-oat bread and topped with apple compote, maple syrup and whipped cream. Luckily I was hungry enough to devour most of it. I even saved some room for a piece of Amy's dark chocolate ganache pie, so smooth and rich.

I had a lovely afternoon, sipping on tea (coffee for Amy), and chatting while soaking up the sun through the window (desperately needed this time of year). Such a wonderful, cozy spot with consistently fantastic service.

Jak's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Heavenly Breakfast

This morning my husband made me one of the best breakfasts to date. If you think of it as just an egg on toast, it seems pretty simple. But when you use top-notch ingredients, that's when you take a meal from good to oh-so-great!

Let's start with the toast – my husband used a thick slice of Art-is-in potato dill baguette. Any bread from this place is amazing, this one was no exception. It even had slivers of caramelized onion and potato inside. He topped it with some Emmental cheese before toasting it. Next came the egg, cooked to perfection and decorated with green onion and sprinkled with Hawaï Black Pearl salt. I love the weekends, and mostly due to the yummy breakfasts my husband whips together for me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup in Gatineau Park

The wonderful thing about living in Ottawa is that you can be in the middle of the forest within minutes of downtown. In the summer we do it cycling, in the winter, skiing takes over.

I've only gotten into cross-country skiing these past couple of years. I try to get out once a week. But if food is going to play a part in this, I think I may have to increase the frequency. Tonight I did my first night ski. The destination was a little cabin 5kms into the woods.

Gatineau park has lovely groomed trails and quaint little cabins here and there with sturdy picnic tables and wood stoves – perfect for heating up cheese for a fondu, or in tonight's case, grilled cheese sandwiches.

Teresa made these awesome brie and spicy monterey jack sandwiches that she heated over the wood stove. She also brought a lovely tomato soup that I piled a ton of cheese fish over. Yumm! I contributed the liquids, Banrock Station Shiraz and some Bailey's to start. Oh, and 90% cocoa for dessert.

She was fully equipped, right down to the spork! Or should I say kspork (there's a knife built in too!) So relaxing, and quite perfect for a Friday night after a long week of work. Oh how lucky we are!

Asian-Inspired Soup

I wasn't sure if I should call this Asian-inspired or fridge-inspired. This is the perfect example of what to do with whatever you have in your fridge/freezer. Something I probably wouldn't attempt for fear I'd mix the wrong ingredients together. But for my husband, it comes naturally – and wow, what a result! I wouldn't have classified this as a “do-what-you-can-with-what-you-have” recipe. It's more of a “I bought these ingredients specifically for this recipe”.

My husband took some chicken stock and to it he added Sriracha sauce, fish sauce, soya sauce, green onion, basil, ginger and garlic. We had some carrots that needed to be eaten, so he threw those in. Candace brought us some lotus root from Japan, in it went. Wontons from Dong Ling, perfect. Leftover egg noodles in the cupboard, frozen shrimp from the freezer – done. This soup was amazing! He even topped it off with a garnish of spring rolls leftover from a party. What more could you ask for!?

This soup was satisfying, warming and downright delicious. I think it may have to become a regular.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Yummy Indian

My husband stopped in at Nasa Food Centre on his way home tonight and picked up a few delicious treats for dinner – palak paneer – which he served over some fresh baby spinach and rice; lentil bhajji – to which he added a fantastic dipping sauce made of onion jam and curry; and some lentils.

My husband has always wanted to make palak paneer from scratch, but when you have a spot like Nasa who has it so readily available and so good, it's hard to justify putting the time into it on a weeknight.

I gobbled everything down so fast. I just wish he had brought home more bhajji! He fried them perfectly, and the curried onion jam was a must to lighten the heaviness of this spicy fritter.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chicken Burgers and Fries

Who says sauce from a bottle isn't good? Not I! Not after last night anyway.

My husband had a bunch of guys over to watch football on Sunday. As usual, he served up some tasty treats. Not the kind he normally serves me. (Although I'm sure the guys wouldn't mind medium-rare duck on wonton chips with onion jam.) Chicken wings with bottled bbq sauce and Frank's Red Hot was up, along with a mixture of blue cheese dressing and sour cream for dipping.

The leftover sauces are what made this meal so amazing.

A juicy chicken breast was served on a soft, white bun along with some lettuce, tomato, red onions, bbq sauce and blue cheese sour cream. Sweet potato fries accompanied the burger, as did some hot sauce and blue cheese mayo for dipping. It was perfect.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Marysol’s Gnocchi

I'm going to start this post by thanking Marysol for sharing her lovely Noilly Gnocchi recipe and inspiring my husband to make it, because it was DELICIOUS!

He drooled (as did I) over this post and last night the torture finally ended. We picked up some gnocchi from Parma Ravioli on Wellington and the remaining ingredients from the Bagel Shop across the street. What a feast, so creamy and full-flavoured. The sauce is made with dry vermouth, piquant Emmental swiss cheese and salty prosciutto – decadence at it's best. My husband served this dish with a fresh arugula salad and toasty Art-is-in baguette, perfect sides for a meal so rich.

Our friends Amy and Andrew also brought some delicious wine – Christian Moueix 2005 Merlot and 2008 Pérez Cruz Cab Sauvignon. We also served Col Di Sasso 2007 Cab Sauvignon & Sangiovese. Yumm.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Petit Bill’s Bistro

Caught yet again sans camera. My husband's iPhone isn't doing too bad though. Last night, after a very long and very tough work week, my husband brought me to Petit Bill's for a few nibbles and lovely stout. I had no idea Mill Street even made a stout. But they have it on tap, and it is yummy! The best way I could describe it was that it had the flavour of St Ambroise Oatmeal Stout but the light, smooth texture of a Guinness. I tried looking for it today at the liquor store but my search was unsuccessful.

We ordered three appetizers. Number one was a bed of crisp, golden baked wontons served with 2 dips – pureed spinach with garlic, and mild ancho chili and cheese. Both were fantastic.

Next we had the floured and pan seared pickerel cheeks served with some more wonton chips and a melted lemon caper butter. My husband found a bone in his cheek, we laughed at the thought of fish cheekbones – can they really have cheekbones?? This find led to story about his Dad, who while in the navy, used to eat a lot of powdered eggs. They would have some real eggs on the ship that they saved for special occasions, but on a day-to-day basis they ate the powdered variation. To make them feel special, and possibly feel like they were indulging in the real thing, the chef would slip the odd egg shell into their dish, thus giving them the illusion that they were eating the real thing. Oh these were cheeks alright! Cheek bone and all!

Finally, we had the lobster poutine (actually considered a main) made with thin cut french fries, lobster pieces and a creamy shellfish and mascarpone cheese butter sauce. Now this is the high life! I must say, we opted for the richest of the rich. No need to eat anything more after that. Even the size of the appetizers were quite large. If you're going for the full dinner, I highly recommend sharing an app. You wouldn't want to spoil your scrumptious main.

As usual, the service was fantastic. We grabbed a spot at the bar and within a half hour of our arrival the place was packed. As with any great spot, you're best making a reservation.

Apps range between $6 and $16, bistro fare from $13 to $19, and mains from $23 to $29.

Petit Bill's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 11, 2010


With all the choices for restaurants out there, it's really difficult to make it back to the ones that have been around for a while – mostly because you know they'll always be there to back you up on a night that you really don't feel like making any decisions. One of the first Asian restaurants I tried when I moved to Ottawa 10 years ago was Mekong. I adored it. We didn't have a restaurant in Moncton, NB that lived up to this type of cuisine at the time. In fact I don't think we had any restaurant that served any kind of Cantonese, Szechwan, Vietnamese or Thai. And if we did, I didn't have anyone to introduce me to it.

It's been quite a few years since I'd been back, but one evening my husband and I were on our way home, tummies partially full from a late lunch and thought, why not just stop in for a few nibbles. Mekong is one of those restaurants that is consistently good. You won't leave there unsatisfied. The service is always fantastic, the atmosphere warm and welcoming, and the food, fresh and yummy.

We ended up ordering more than we needed; nonetheless, we gobbled down every bite. Pot Sticker Pork Dumplings, Curry Beef Triangle Puffs, Shrimp and Crab Cakes, my absolute favourite dumpling in the whole world – Hunan Dumplings, and the final appetizer, one we asked our server to surprise us with, Shrimp Shooters.

Everything was delicious. My soft spot for any kind of dumpling will put both the pot sticker and hunan dumplings on the top of my list. I was surprised that the beef triangle puffs were fried, not sure why, but they were fantastic dipped in the curry plum sauce either way. The crab cakes I wasn't crazy about. I prefer a crispier outer shell, and a more minced texture inside, these pieces were small chunks. My husband enjoyed them though. And the shrimp shooters were very fun, 4 lovely shrimp wrapped in a wonton wrapper, fried and dunked in a shooter of sweet and sour sauce. Delish!

Each item in the Dim Sum and Appetizer section of the menu is only $5. Appetizer soups run between $4 and $5 and mains between $11 and $20.

Mekong on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wonton Noodle Soup

I decided this afternoon that I was going to make a wonton soup for my lunches this week. I love wontons and I love noodles. What better way to enjoy those two pleasures in life.

I've never made one before but I found a yummy looking recipe off the appetite for China blog. Now, in her post, the wontons are made from scratch. Given that I love the dumplings from Dong Ling, I figured they would have equally delicious wontons, and save me the frustration.

I tried to follow the recipe to a T but had to make some substitutions. I used green chives instead of yellow, and sadly, when I got to Dong Ling, they only had pork and chive wontons (unlike the shrimp she highly recommended in the recipe). I still made the broth using the dried shrimp, removing them when I took the bones out. But I think next time I'll use dried onions instead – the shrimp added tons of flavour but the onions would go better with the pork. I also added some bok choy. It turned out really good!

I picked up all the ingredients at Kowloon Market.

My stop at Dong Ling was also quite fun. Along with the wontons, I also picked up some pork and cabbage dumplings to eat at a later date. And, some yummy food to eat right away – warm pork and chive pocket, an egg, green onion and glass noodle pocket and 2 pork buns (one made with chinese cabbage and the other with chinese mushrooms. It's so much more relaxing cooking on a full stomach!

Lamb Shanks with Truffle Mash and Beets

After an afternoon of cross country skiing, this is the meal you want to come home to. I don't even know where to begin on this one. The richness of the food is so decadent and then combined with that zen feeling you get after an afternoon in the fresh air, I seriously thought I had died and gone to heaven. My husband has made this before, this one has had some modifications. I didn't think the last one could get any better, until I had this.

The thick, full-flavoured sauce that is revealed after 8 hours of slow cooking the meaty lamb shanks in a pool of both red and white wine, onions, beef stock, garlic and thyme is a taste buds dream. The onions become almost caramelized – I had to have at least one sliver with every bite of the fall-off-the-bone lamb!

I wanted to douse my mashed potatoes in the sauce too, until I had a bite of them without. They deserve to be eaten as is. I thought I had had some pretty fancy mashed potatoes in my life, but these ones are the topper. The secret is the truffle oil. If you're a mashed potato fan like I am, you will see the value in mixing in one of the world's best oils to make them the best side you've ever had. My husband also added some butter, milk and salt and pepper while whipping them.

The last fun thing on my plate were the shredded beets. What a fun way to enjoy them. It also makes it easier to add them to bites of meat and potatoes. Simply shave the beet, then boil the shavings and drain in a colander., this was so delicious!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Whalesbone Oyster House

My husband and I stopped by the Whalesbone for a nightcap of delicious Beaus on the way home from dinner at a friend's last night. We immediately grabbed a comfortable spot at the bar to watch the cooking show that unfolds at almost any given hour. I could zone out and watch oyster shucking for hours. Maybe it's the anticipation of the finished product, maybe it's just the sheer entertainment of it all. Whatever it is, I love it. And it's what brings me back every time. That and the cozy atmosphere, genuinely friendly staff (they really know how to let their patrons just sit back, relax and enjoy their evening from beginning to end), and of course the heavenly food that has yet to be beat by any restaurant in this city serving seafood.

We've been cutting back on eating out recently. The last time I was here I drooled over my friend's maple butter scallops because I had decided I was going to eat at home and join them after. Big mistake. She did give me a bit though, a torturous bite, best thing I've ever had. I wanted to knock her out and steal her plate (did I say that out loud?).

If you've ever been in this restaurant you'll notice the minute you walk in you can't help but start salivating at all the rich smells that fill the air. Which is why last night, although our tummies were full, ate little something to fill the mental void. That something was the Hot Smoked Newfoundland Mackerel wrapped in a thin, golden fried biscuit so light and crisp, accompanied by a smooth, liquid tartar sauce that added the perfect tang. Along with this magical creation was a warm tomato filled with bacon cubes and dill. I love any kind of smoked fish. This mackerel was to die for. I think I may have to visit their supply shop today to see if they have any to take home.

I often reference these guys in my blog posts (too many to link to). But I feel the need to continue since every time seems to get better and better. I may need to add a sixth star to my rating system if this continues.

Whalesbone Oyster House on Urbanspoon

Asparagus and Cheese Cannelloni with Tomato Sauce

I committed the ultimate sin last night. So rushed to get to our friends Amy and Andrew's house, I forgot my camera. I knew I'd be getting a picture-worthy meal and it just kills me that I don't have the proof to show anyone. I could have used my husband's iphone, but the quality of the shots I knew wouldn't do it justice (although my next post will prove me wrong on that one).

This couple prides themselves on their “from scratch” cooking, or at least it seems every time we go over there. But this time I told Amy not to go crazy, make something simple and just relax and hang out with us. I was able to half convince her. The cannelloni was from Olivieri and really quite delicious. What really made this meal pop however, was the magnificent sauce that smothered them. I must say, every sauce that has come from this kitchen, at least that I've had, has left me wanting more (hence my current craving even though it's only 9am). And this one did not disappoint. In fact, I think it's the best one yet. Thick slices of giant mushrooms, ground spicy Italian sausage, tons of basil, bottled tomatoes from the family garden, and the kicker? Chipotle powder. It seems Andrew turns red whenever he eats paprika so Amy uses chipotle to spice all her sauces. Fantastic.

They served this warming meal with a fresh Greek salad and some double smoked cheddar and Italian sausage to start.

Thanks so much again guys! We had a great time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tofu and Beet Greens in Green Curry Sauce

Whenever my husband makes something using the PC Thai Green Curry sauce, I get this overwhelming comfort feeling. It's soooo good. And he makes it even better by adding a few extra ingredients to it – cream, curry and cumin. Yummm.

Tonight he mixed this lovely sauce with sticky rice, stir fried beet greens, green onion and tofu – individually done in peanut oil. This was his first attempt at fried tofu. Although he wasn't expecting the amount of time it took, the end result was phenomenal, perfectly firm and golden. I really hope he makes it again!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave (and the amazing ZenKitchen)

Have you ever felt like a complete idiot after finding out that something so great was going on right under your nose and you had absolutely no idea? That's how I felt this week when I was invited to attend the launch of a fantastic new TV show that actually began tonight at 9pm on the W Network (thank you so much Ian for thinking of me!).

The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave, owners of ZenKitchen, sharing all their joy, pain, frustrations and unconditional love of vegetarian cuisine with all of Canada. The trials and tribulations faced by this couple totally tests their resiliency. And to have met them in person and see them at this stage just made my heart melt. They are so genuine and kind I'm absolutely honoured to have celebrated the prescreening with them. Not to mention that after the first episode I'm already addicted to the show (click here for the complete show schedule).

I also had the unique opportunity of rubbing shoulders with some of the people that brought it all together. Heidi Helm of Urbanomic Interiors, who did the interior design of the restaurant, made us feel welcome immediately (we also happened to be discussing how much we loved the look of the restaurant without even knowing she was standing right next to us!).

I was also quite nervous to be surrounded by so many other Ottawa foodies that I hold in such high regard – foodiePrints and Nooschi I must say are amongst my absolute favourites. It was great to chat with them.

But my embarrassment stems from the fact that this amazing little gem is about a 10 minute walk from my house and I've yet to dine there. My husband and I did however, get to try some teasers tonight and we are now anxiously awaiting their reopening on January 19th. Here are just a few of the many appetizers that were floating around.

A warm, velvety cauliflower soup.

What had my husband and I ready to steal the entire plate – mushroom or caramelized onion dumplings drizzled with truffle oil. It's like heaven, in your mouth. I guarantee you've never had anything this good in your life.

New potatoes topped with a seaweed based vegan caviar.

Check out their menu if you don't mind starting to drool now!